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Football helps change perception of Waco

Nowhere is the Bears' success felt any more deeply than in Waco, Texas.
by Jenni Carlson Modified: November 5, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: November 4, 2013

/articleid/3901071/1/pictures/2259917">Photo - Baylor's Cody Wetsel, front left, Jason Osei, Cyril Richardson (68) and Jay Lee (4) celebrate on the field following an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 71-7. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Baylor's Cody Wetsel, front left, Jason Osei, Cyril Richardson (68) and Jay Lee (4) celebrate on the field following an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 71-7. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The construction of a new $250 million stadium is well underway along the banks of the Brazos River. Situated right beside Interstate 35, Waco residents have been able to watch the progress, to see the massive structure rise out of a barren area where only massive power poles were before.

“Building the new stadium has affected the imagination of everyone,” Campbell said.

The thing is, Baylor athletics has been outstanding for several years. Kim Mulkey and her women's basketball team have a couple national titles. Men's basketball has recovered from scandal and become a force in the Big 12. Many other sports are ranked nationally.

But football remained a missing piece until the past couple years — and in a football-mad state like Texas, it was a big piece.

“We've been through some lean years that were no fun,” said Citrano, the owner of George's. “Nobody was coming to games.

“And now, they're selling out.”

The excitement is palpable all around town. Used to be, Citrano ran into few people who wanted to talk Baylor football. His restaurant has done team meals for nearly 30 years — steak, baked potato casserole and southern green beans are favorites this season — so fans know his passion for the Bears.

Now, Citrano can't go anywhere in Waco without someone wanting to talk to him about the team.

The stigma of what's happened in the city's past has been overtaken by the promise of what's happening now on the football field.

“People aren't thinking about those days,” Citrano said. “They're thinking about the good times.”

But you get the feeling like Waco is still trying to distance itself from those episodes, especially David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.

Asked about the standoff, Citrano mentioned that the compound where Koresh and dozens of his followers along with four federal agents died was 30 miles away from Waco.

“We got tagged for it,” he lamented.

In reality, the compound was only a little over 11 miles from the Baylor campus, and as the crow flies, it's even shorter.

A year ago, Baylor basketball coach Scott Drew was quoted in a New York Times story as joking, “That wasn't in our city. Give that one to Dallas. The president's ranch is closer to us than that is, but they say he's from Crawford. We get David Koresh. That's messed up!”

The Bush ranch is actually 36 miles from the Baylor campus.

It's hard to blame folks in Waco from trying to keep that episode at arm's length. It detracts from the great things happening in their city. Revitalizing downtown. Expanding I-35. Developing the riverfront. Growing the university.

Baylor football is highlighting the positive to the outside world.

(Does this sound familiar or what, Oklahoma City?)

“The city is pumped up,” Citrano said. “The crowds at the games are something else.”

Citrano says George's Party Zone has never been busier. They're selling as much food and drink as ever. The only difference is that once kickoff approaches, beers and burgers give way to the Bears.

“They're all going to the game,” Citrano said of the fans.

“It's just so exciting to be like this.”

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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